The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
From radical jihad to the politics of compromise
By Shlomo Ben-Ami, Haaretz, April 20, 2007

It's not surprising that the Mecca agreement and the Palestinian unity government that arose in its wake are thorns in Israel's side. For some time now, useless last-ditch battles have been a hallmark of Israeli policy on the Palestinian issue. But erosion of the boycott of the Palestinian unity government, perhaps the most popular government on the Palestinian street since 1993, has become evident in many Western capitals. The idea that it's possible to isolate Hamas, to deprive it of its right to govern, to hold a dialogue solely with the "moderates" and to expect that Hamas will accept all agreements and not use its destructive power to torpedo them is unrealistic. Paradoxically, Israel and Hamas share more common ground than is apparent at first glance. The chance of a final status agreement emerging from a direct dialogue with the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Mahmoud Abbas, is close to nil. When this becomes clear, and Israel starts searching for a way to return to the idea of withdrawal from the West Bank, it probably won't find a worthier partner than Hamas. Hamas, like Israel, is not ready for the compromises entailed by a final status accord. But a long-term interim agreement is possible only with it, and not with the PLO.

Hamas' transition to parliamentary politics is part of a process many movements from the mainstream of fundamentalist Islam are undergoing today, as they seek to disassociate themselves from global jihad founded by Al-Qaida, and instead seek to integrate themselves in their country's political fabric. In Egypt, this is the direction being taken by the Muslim Brotherhood, and it is also that of Jordan's Islamic Action Front, of the Renaissance Party in Tunisia and of the Justice and Development Party in Morocco.

The United States is winning the war for Arab democracy, but paradoxically, it is declining to reap the rewards because the new image of Islamic political pluralism does not match the illusion of liberal democracy in whose name America sought to change the face of the Middle East. The West, Israel included, and the Arab rulers it has cultivated need to understand that the struggle between political Islam and the conservative regimes needn't be a zero-sum game. The Mecca agreement is not a marginal matter; it is no random, passing event. This was a formative move in the shaping of a new and revolutionary pattern of a division of power between political Islam and the secular regimes in the Arab world. [complete article]

Note -- Shlomo Ben-Ami was Israeli foreign minister in the government of Ehud Barak.

Jordan's Abdullah tells Israel: We share same enemies
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz, April 19, 2007

Jordan's King Abdullah II yesterday told a delegation of Knesset members that "we are in the same boat, we have the same problem. We have the same enemies." The king reiterated the comments a number of times, which those at the meeting said referred to Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Abdullah also emphasized that he spoke not only for Jordan but for a group of states in the region. The king asked at one point: "Do you want Iran on the banks of the Jordan?"

Former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said in response: "I have seen Jordanian openness that does not hesitate to scold extremist Muslims." MK Shlomo Breznitz said that the comments raise the first hope that moderates plan to set the tone in the Arab world. "The style and daring are new," he said. [complete article]

Comment -- In Washington last September, when then Counselor to Secretary of State Rice, Philip Zelikow, laid out a strategy for the "multifront war against radical Islamists," he provoked a shock wave of outrage inside the Israel Lobby. Zelikow had the audacity to suggest that hints of progress in the Arab-Israeli conflict might serve the interests of America and Israel's allies in the region. His point was that forging a regional alliance against Iran would require some form of compensation in order to win support from U.S.-friendly Arab regimes. He believed that, "What would bind that coalition and help keep them together is a sense that the Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed."

Jordan's King Abdullah looks like a stalwart supporter of this strategy -- especially since he faces an Islamist threat at home and has also been chief fear-monger among those warning about the regional threat from an expanding "Shia crescent."

Even so, I have to wonder whether he's actually a bit more canny than some of the Knesset members he just met in Amman. He said, "we have the same enemies" and left it up to the Israelis to infer (rightly or wrongly) that, like them, he draws no distinction between Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. But the little Abdullah surely hasn't forgotten the diplomatic coup his neighbor, the big Abdullah, recently scored by brokering the Mecca Agreement between Hamas and Fatah -- an agreement that seems to have succeeded in preventing a Palestinian civil war.

Perhaps King Abdullah II sees that the American stratagem can quite effectively be turned on its head. Instead of being willing to play the Palestinian card in order to join a reckless U.S.-Israeli campaign against Iran, he seems to be playing the Iranian card in order to push for the resolution of the Middle East conflict.

After all, if you're a Middle East ruler with a somewhat tenuous grasp on power, wherein lies the greater political reward? Standing up to Iran and reinforcing the perception among most Arabs (and worst of all, your own subjects) that you are an American quisling, or reaching for the greatest prize of all -- playing an instrumental role in the creation of a Palestinian state. If Abdullah accomplished that, then however Jordan's political structure might evolve, he'd stand a much better chance of safely occupying the throne for the rest of his life.
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Baghdad death squads end truce to seek revenge
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 20, 2007

Death squads are returning to the streets of Baghdad despite the security plan for the capital launched with great fanfare by the US two months ago.

As Iraqis bury the 230 people killed or found dead on Wednesday, ominous signs are appearing that the Shia militias have resumed their tit-for-tat killings. There is a sharp increase in the number of dead bodies found bearing signs of torture, with 67 corpses discovered dumped in Baghdad in the first three days of the week.

People in Baghdad, both Shia and Sunni, do not dare move bodies left lying in the rubbish outside their doors though they sometimes cover them with a blanket. One corpse was left lying for days in the centre of a main commercial street in the Sunni bastion of al-Adhamiyah in east Baghdad. He was believed to be a victim of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, which has been killing Sunni who belong to other guerrilla groups or are associated with the government. Local people say that US and Iraqi forces stationed in a newly renovated police station in al-Adhamiyah as part of the security plan seem unaware of what is happening around them. [complete article]

U.S. builds Baghdad wall to keep Sunnis and Shias apart
By Mark Tran, The Guardian, April 20, 2007

US soldiers are building a three-mile wall to separate one of Baghdad's Sunni enclaves from surrounding Shia neighbourhoods, it emerged today.

The move is part of a contentious security plan that has fuelled fears of the Iraqi capital's Balkanisation.

When the barrier is finished, the minority Sunni community of Adamiya, on the eastern side of the River Tigris, will be completely gated. Traffic control points manned by Iraqi soldiers will provide the only access, the US military said. [complete article]

Shattered illusions
By Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram Weekly, April 19, 2007

Democracy is not borne from chaos or from the destruction of a nation, that's for sure. Democracy in Germany and Japan did not emerge from the destruction of those countries, contrary to the ridiculous myth. Democracy is an expression of the sovereignty of a nation and a form of exercising this sovereignty -- the most ideal form of exercising sovereignty, according to advocates of democracy, because it reflects the will of the people. Democracy cannot come into effect by manacling the sovereignty of a nation and dismantling a country as is currently taking place in Iraq and as some mad theorists had envisioned.

It wasn't just Baghdad that fell, not even at first glance. What also came crashing to the ground was the fairytale that one could build democracy just by pointing some mighty barrels at a dictatorship. The commonly held impression is that society without government is civil society. The notion has become something of a fad. But it is an illusion and a dangerous one at that. Society without government is a society at war, a society in which everyone is at the throats of everyone else. With the collapse of the state in Iraq the fires from "society's hell" flared out of control. The dual collapse of the dictatorship of Baghdad and the myth of building democracy on the ruins gave rise to the current Iraqi nightmare. [complete article]

Iraq war 'lost' says top Democrat
Al Jazeera, April 20, 2007

The US war in Iraq is lost and a further build-up of US troops in the country will not recover the situation, the senior Democrat in the US senate has said.

"This war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week," Harry Reid, the senate Democratic majority leader, told reporters. [complete article]

Iraq pullout would lead to bloodbath, Bush warns
By Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray, Washington Post, April 20, 2007

President Bush warned Thursday that pulling out of Iraq too soon would trigger a bloodbath akin to that of the Cambodian killing fields of the 1970s, while Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid declared that it is too late to stay because the war has already been lost.

On a day that reverberated with echoes of the Vietnam War era, Bush and Reid (D-Nev.) engaged in a long-distance debate over the lessons of history and the fate of the latest overseas war as part of a struggle over $100 billion in funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reid cast Iraq as another Vietnam and Bush as another Lyndon B. Johnson, while the president described dire consequences if the past repeats itself. [complete article]
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U.S. under fire for anti-Iran tactics
By Stephen Fidler, Roula Khalaf and Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, April 19, 2007

The Bush administration faces a growing dilemma over the pressure it is placing on European companies to suspend investment in Iran, with some US lawmakers dissatisfied with the effort and European allies worried about its tactics.

The US Treasury and State Department have sent officials across Europe, stepping up pressure on international oil and gas companies in particular not to go ahead with investment plans in Iran. They are seeking to turn the economic screws on Tehran over its nuclear programme, which has already attracted limited United Nations sanctions. [complete article]

See also, EU to hold new nuclear talks with Iran (The Guardian).
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Iran, U.S. take their fight to Afghanistan
By M K Bhadrakumar, Asia Times, April 21, 2007

Iran has made no bones that its Afghan policy is essentially three-pronged. First, Iran must hasten the vacation of the American military presence in Afghanistan. Second, everything possible should be done to ensure that the Taliban don't regain power in Kabul. Third, it is in Iran's historical, cultural and geopolitical interest to ensure that western Afghanistan remains in its sphere of influence.

But despite its self-image as an ascendant regional power, Iran has relied on soft power in advancing its policy objectives. In 2006, Iran issued close to half a million visas to Afghan nationals to visit Iran. Its contribution to Afghan reconstruction has been stunning - almost nearing US$1 billion.

Iran decided to live with President Hamid Karzai's enduring links with the security establishment in Washington. Iranian mediation was crucial in his induction into Kabul five years ago. Iran pretended it didn't notice that the US lowered the bar of democracy for getting Karzai elected as president. And, all the while, it kept counseling Shi'ite leaders to cooperate with Karzai.

Iranian propaganda doesn't berate Karzai's government for being ineffectual or corrupt, even though Tehran is uneasy about the aggravation of the Afghan situation. Unsurprisingly, Karzai visualizes Tehran as a balancing factor in Kabul's troubled equations with Islamabad. Out of all Afghanistan's neighbors, apart from New Delhi perhaps, it has been with Tehran that Karzai's government has kept up steady exchanges at the political level. [complete article]
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Defining the enemy
By Amira Howeidy, Al-Ahram Weekly, April 19, 2007

Israel, it seems, is at war with one man. The Israeli media and politicians from across the political spectrum are up in arms against him, the Shabak (intelligence) is said to be preparing a file on him and his fate could have an impact on 1.3 million Arabs living in Israel.

This might be the kind of attention someone as high-profile as Azmi Bishara expects when faced with accusations of treason. Then again, it might not. Bishara is, after all, not just an outspoken Arab-Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament the Knesset but an embodiment of Israel's paradoxes and its complex relationship with itself and its Arab-Palestinian community.

Over the past 11 years this Christian Arab- Palestinian politician, intellectual, novelist, philosopher and citizen of Israel has struggled to redefine the status and identity of the Palestinians whose lands, towns and villages were occupied by the Jewish state between 1948 and 1949 and who later became Israeli citizens. While Israel sought to assimilate them and "Israelise" their collective identity, Bishara and his National Arab Alliance party begged to differ.

Their vision, which has gained momentum within the Arab community (known as the 1948 Arabs) insists that Israel should be a state for all its citizens and not -- as it now perceives itself -- a Jewish state. A Jewish state, they argue, defies the logics of democracy because it does not equate between its Jewish and non-Jewish populations. Even more alarming for Israeli nationalists is the fact that such a position could represent the nucleus of a bi-national secular state. [complete article]

See also, Azmi Bishara: a brilliant threat (Asaad Talhami).

Democracy: a strategic threat to Israel
By Neve Gordon, The Nation, April 17, 2007

During the past few months, political activists and members of the Palestinian intellectual elite within Israel, all of whom are Israeli citizens, have drafted four documents that articulate how they conceive the state's future. The underlying assumption of all of these documents is that as long as Israel is defined as a Jewish state, its laws will always fall short of basic democratic principles and, more particularly, the right of all its citizens to full equality.

The authors of the document called "The Democratic Constitution" maintain that the Arab citizens of Israel should be considered a "homeland minority" with national rights. The idea is to transform Israel into a bilingual and multicultural democracy for all its citizens, rather than a Jewish democracy, which they argue is an oxymoron. Such transformation would inevitably mean changing the laws of citizenship and immigration so that citizenship would no longer be granted automatically to any Jew wishing to immigrate but rather to anyone born within Israel's territory or whose parent or spouse is a citizen, or to people persecuted due to their political beliefs.

Not long after the documents' publication, Israel's second-largest newspaper, Ma'ariv, reported a meeting between the head of the security agency, Yuval Diskin, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. During the meeting Diskin warned Olmert that the radicalization of Israel's Arab citizens constitutes a "strategic threat to the state's existence." Diskin added that "the proliferation of the visionary documents published by the different Arab elites in Israel is particularly worrisome, [since] the documents are united by their conception of Israel as a state for all its citizens and not a Jewish state." The head of the security services concluded that "the separatist and subversive patterns represented by the elites might engender a new direction and mobilize the masses."

Balad sent a letter protesting Diskin's assertions, arguing that legitimate political activity whose aim is to change the state's character should not be considered subversive or dangerous. According to Ha'aretz, the Israeli Security Agency replied that it "would foil the activity of anyone seeking to harm Israel's Jewish or democratic character, even if that activity was carried out by legal means."

Diskin's words are telling. He admits not only that anyone who strives to alter the Jewish character of the state is considered an enemy and will be treated as such but that the secret service has no respect for democratic practices and procedures. It is precisely within the context of the four historic documents that one should understand the recent accusations against Bishara. More than anything else, Bishara constitutes a symbolic threat, since he personifies the recent demand of the Palestinian elite to transform Israel from a Jewish democracy to a democracy for all its citizens. [complete article]

The dangerous politics of "a state for all its citizens"
By Toufic Haddad, MR Zine, April 18, 2007

Ever since the National Democratic Assembly raised the slogan that Israel should be defined as "a state of its citizens" -- as opposed to "the state of the Jewish people throughout the world," as Israel is currently defined -- the Israeli establishment has not wavered from attempting to crush it, to prevent the "infectious" advancement of this political line within the Palestinian Arab citizenry and leadership, and also internationally.

Israel has given such strategic significance to this campaign because it understands only too well that the NDA has placed its finger upon the very contradiction that Zionism cannot resolve. And it has done so not through armed struggle, or calling for "throwing Jews into the sea," but through practicing their democratic civil rights to institution building, party building, and eloquent and impassioned liberal humanist and democratic discourse. [complete article]

See also, Rumors abound as Israel levels secret charges against Bishara (The Forward).
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Iraq may hold twice as much oil
By Ed Crooks, Financial Times, April 18, 2007

Iraq could hold almost twice as much oil in its reserves as had been thought, according to the most comprehensive independent study of its resources since the US-led invasion in 2003.

The potential presence of a further 100bn barrels in the western desert highlights the opportunity for Iraq to be one of the world's biggest oil suppliers, and its attractions for international oil companies – if the conflict in the country can be resolved.

If confirmed, it would raise Iraq from the world's third largest source of oil reserves with 116bn barrels to second place, behind Saudi Arabia and overtaking Iran. [complete article]

Iraqi Kurds oppose draft oil law
Today's Zaman, April 20, 2007

The de facto autonomous regional Kurdish administration in northern Iraq is sticking to its objection to a draft oil law that would centralize control of most of the country's resources while the central government's oil minister has already announced that the draft would be sent to the Parliament next week.

Ashti Hawrami, minister of natural resources for the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, told Reuters on Wednesday that "Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will not sign up to details in the emerging oil law." Annexes to the draft oil law that aim to wrest oilfields from regional governments and place them in the hands of a newly formed state-oil company are unconstitutional, Hawrami attending an oil conference in Dubai, argued. Meanwhile, Iraq's Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, also attending the conference in Dubai, said on Wednesday the draft would go to lawmakers before the next week was out, avoiding giving a specific day.

"We are broke. Nobody is going to lend Iraq any new money to invest in its old, lousy oil fields. We have to do these professionally and on a competitive basis," Hawrami also said, while speaking to Dow Jones Newswires at the Dubai meeting. He added that proposals to the draft law that would give the Iraqi National Oil Co. control over 90 percent of the country's oil reserves threaten the law's approval. [complete article]
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Could global warming cause war?
By Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, April 19, 2007

For years, the debate over global warming has focused on the three big "E's": environment, energy, and economic impact. This week it officially entered the realm of national security threats and avoiding wars as well.

A platoon of retired US generals and admirals warned that global warming "presents significant national security challenges to the United States." The United Nations Security Council held its first ever debate on the impact of climate change on conflicts. And in Congress, a bipartisan bill would require a National Intelligence Estimate by all federal intelligence agencies to assess the security threats posed by global climate change.

Many experts view climate change as a "threat multiplier" that intensifies instability around the world by worsening water shortages, food insecurity, disease, and flooding that lead to forced migration. That's the thrust of a 35-page report (PDF) by 11 admirals and generals this week issued by the Alexandria, Va.-based national security think tank The CNA Corporation. [complete article]
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Meeting the resistance in Iraq
Steve Connors and Molly Bingham interviewed by Kevin Prosen, Counterpunch, April 18, 2007

Did anything surprise you about the social and political makeup of the resistance?

MB: I think the thing we found was they were socially diverse, some had served in the military, some had not. There were some Sunni and some Shi'a, like the Traveler and the Syrian. What surprised us was in some ways how understandable, normal it was once you heard them explain what they were fighting for, their motivations. It started to make more sense. We didn't know what we would find, but that was a little bit surprising. They said "we are defending our land, we don't want to be occupied. Our honor is attacked by foreign troops on the soil."

Generally their feeling wasn't anti-American hatred, or hatred of America "because of our freedom." It was because soldiers were on the ground. It wouldn't have mattered if those troops were French or Chinese or American.

SC: In some ways we were not surprised, in some ways we were really surprised. We were always on a learning curve. There was an amazing quote by the Teacher, it didn't make the final cut of the film. He said we want to have a good relationship with America, but send us your engineers or scholars, not your warriors who shoot the place up. [complete article]

View clips from the film, "Meeting Resistance."
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Questioning the Shia crescent
By Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Al-Ahram Weekly, April 19, 2007

The notion of an Iraq-inspired model of Shia empowerment, which an emboldened Iran has exploited for the purpose of creating a "Shia Crescent", grouping itself with Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, has gained much currency in academic, media and political circles in the West and the Arab world. Yet the theory is seriously flawed, underpinned by faulty premises, not the least of which is the assumption that the Shia experience in Iraq has raised the political consciousness of Shias elsewhere on account of sectarian identity. Such a view oversimplifies Shia identity politics by overlooking competing interpretations of what it means to be Shia, and ignoring alternative notions of Shia empowerment. [complete article]
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British hand over province to Iraqi control
By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2007

With the flourish of a pen and a businesslike handshake, the British on Wednesday turned over a lawless stretch of desert and marshland to Iraqi provincial control.

Maysan was the fourth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed over and the third by British-led troops. Britain has started drawing down its forces in the four southern provinces even as the U.S. increases its troop strength in Baghdad and elsewhere.
In a sign of lingering security concerns, the date and venue of Wednesday's transfer were released only after the event.

The ceremony took place in a wind-swept military base on the southwestern outskirts of Amarah. Guests were flown in on military helicopters; British and Iraqi soldiers were positioned on every rooftop.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker canceled their plans to attend at the last minute without explanation.

Shaw and provincial Gov. Adil Maliki signed a memorandum of understanding and shook hands before a crowd of officials in suits and tribal leaders in flowing robes. Tents decorated with garlands of artificial flowers shielded guests from the sun. Soldiers, policemen, border officers and firemen, one of them wearing a shiny, metallic-colored suit, marched by.

British officials said the occasion demonstrated the willingness of the Iraqi government to take responsibility for the difficult region. But they acknowledged that it would change little on the ground. [complete article]

Comment -- This then is the key to a successful exit strategy: stage a suitably pompous ceremony; make sure the location remains secret; and then get the hell out of there.
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Pentagon defends Baghdad crackdown
Al Jazeera, April 19, 2007

The Pentagon has defended its recent security crackdown in the Iraqi capital after at least 180 people were killed in a series of bombings in Baghdad on Wednesday.

More than 140 people were killed in one attack near a Baghdad market - the worst single blast in the capital since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "Any time someone is determined to kill innocent civilians, and kill themselves to do it, that's a hard attack to stop." [complete article]
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The Israel Lobby debate
By Hagit Borer, James Petras, and Norman Finkelstein, Dissident Voice, April 17, 2007

Hagit Borer: There is little question in anybody's mind about the special relation between Israel and the United States. Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid to the tune of more than $3 billion dollars a year, plus miscellaneous additions like surplus weaponry, debt waivers and other perks. Israel is the only country that receives its entire aid package in the beginning of the fiscal year allowing it to accrue interest on it during the year. It is the only country which is allowed to spend up to 25% of its aid outside of the United States, placing such expenditures outside US control. Apart from financial support, the United States has offered unwavering support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians, and has systematically supported Israel's refusal to make any effective peace negotiations or peace agreements. It has vetoed countless UN resolutions seeking to bring Israel into compliance with international law. It has allowed Israel to develop nuclear weapons and not to sign the nuclear anti-proliferation treaty and most recently it strongly supported Israel's attack on Lebanon in July of 2006. Support for Israel cuts across party lines and is extremely strong in Congress where criticism of Israel is rarely if ever heard. It also characterizes almost all American administrations from Johnson onwards, with George W. Bush being possible the most pro-Israel ever.

What is the reason for this strong support? Opinions on this matter vary greatly. Within strong pro-Israeli circles, one often hears that the reason is primarily moral: the debt that the United States owes Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust; the nature of Israel as the sole democracy in the Middle East; Israel as the moral and possible strategic ally of the United States in its War on Terror. Within circles that are less supportive of Israel and which are less inclined to view Israel and Israel's conduct as moral, opinions vary as well. One opinion stems from the position of Israel being a strategic ally of the United States -- its support is simply payment for services rendered coupled with the stable pro-American stance of the Jewish Israeli population. Noam Chomsky, among others, is a proponent of this view. According to the opposing view, the United States' support for Israel does not advance American aims, it jeopardizes them. The explanation for the support is to be found in the activities of the Israel Lobby, also known as the Jewish Lobby, or as AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee), which uses its formidable influence to shape American foreign policy in accordance with Israeli interests. The opinion as most recently been associated with an article published in the London Book Review, co-authored by Professor Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Professor Walt of Harvard University.

This debate is the topic of our program today. [complete article]
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Al-Jazeera memo trial starts in London
AP, April 18, 2007

A British government official and a former political researcher went on trial Wednesday for allegedly leaking a classified memo in which President Bush reportedly referred to bombing the Arab television station Al-Jazeera.

David Keogh, 50, a cipher expert, and Leo O'Connor, 44, a lawmaker's aide, are accused of violating secrecy laws by disclosing a document relating to 2004 talks between Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Both defendants deny violating the Official Secrets Act. [complete article]
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Wolfowitz's World Bank deputy tells him to quit
By Richard Adams, The Guardian, April 19, 2007

Paul Wolfowitz's tenure as president of the World Bank may be decided today by the bank's governing board, after he was abandoned by the Bush administration and faced a revolt led by his own deputy.

When Mr Wolfowitz asked a meeting of senior staff yesterday what he could do to repair faith in his leadership, he was told bluntly to resign by Graeme Wheeler, a managing director of the bank and one of two deputies to the president.

Mr Wheeler - a well-respected New Zealander appointed to his post by Mr Wolfowitz last year - told the meeting of 30 vice-presidents at the bank's headquarters in Washington that Mr Wolfowitz should go for the good of the organisation. Several vice-presidents said they agreed with Mr Wheeler. [complete article]

Wolfowitz's quid pro quo
By Emad Mekay and Jim Lobe, April 19, 2007

Of the top five outside international appointments made by embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz during his nearly two-year tenure, three were senior political appointees of right-wing governments that provided strong backing for U.S. policy in Iraq.

The latest appointment came just last month, when former Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher was named senior vice president for external affairs. Muasher served as King Abdullah II's ambassador in Washington in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2002 and reportedly played a key role in ensuring Amman's cooperation in the March 2003 invasion. During and after the invasion, when Muasher served first as foreign minister and then as deputy prime minister, he was considered among Washington's staunchest supporters in an increasingly hostile Arab world. [complete article]

See also, Leader of World Bank staff group becomes Wolfowitz's chief nemesis (WP).
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Boost in Iran's capacity to enrich uranium noted
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, April 19, 2007

Iran has doubled its capacity to enrich uranium in the past two months but remains far from the technological know-how the Bush administration fears and the capabilities that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently claimed, according to an official letter written by a senior U.N. nuclear inspector yesterday.

The letter to Iranian officials from Olli Heinonen, a deputy director general at the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that, in a visit earlier this week, inspectors saw eight separate lines -- or "cascades" -- with 164 centrifuges each operating at a nuclear enrichment facility in the town of Natanz and that "some uranium is being fed into those cascades." A copy of the letter was made available to The Washington Post.

In February, inspectors reported seeing four such cascades operating at the same site, but none was enriching uranium. At the time, Iranian officials said they hoped to be operating 18 cascades by May, each one of which could enrich uranium.

Ahmadinejad and his aides suggested two weeks ago that Iran had reached that goal and was operating 3,000 centrifuges, a number that would signal significant progress in the country's effort to enrich large quantities of uranium. But on Sunday and Monday, inspectors saw a total of 1,312 centrifuges in separate cascades, according to the letter. It remains unclear how effectively they are running, because Iran has encountered considerable technological hurdles in the past two years.

If Iran masters the technology to run the centrifuges in large cascades at high speeds for prolonged periods, it could produce enough uranium for a nuclear bomb. So far, it has not demonstrated the ability to properly build, assemble or run centrifuges that spin uranium at high speeds to purify it for uses such as fuel. [complete article]
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Iran exonerates six who killed in Islam's name
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, April 19, 2007

The Iranian Supreme Court has overturned the murder convictions of six members of a prestigious state militia who killed five people they considered "morally corrupt."

The reversal, in an infamous five-year-old case from Kerman, in central Iran, has produced anger and controversy, with lawyers calling it corrupt and newspapers giving it prominence.

"The psychological consequences of this case in the city have been great, and a lot of people have lost their confidence in the judicial system," Nemat Ahmadi, a lawyer associated with the case, said in a telephone interview. [complete article]
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U.S. favours diplomacy on Iran: Gates
By Carlos Hamann, AFP, April 19, 2007

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Thursday that Washington favours diplomacy to deal with the nuclear programme of Iran, the Jewish state's arch-foe.

Gates also said the US would keep up its two-month-old security plan in Iraq despite a barrage of car bombs that killed 190 people in Baghdad on Wednesday.

"Clearly if you think that the (Iran) programme is further away from being irreversible... you have more time for the diplomatic process to work," Gates told reporters following his meeting with the Israeli premier in Jerusalem.
Gates also reassured Israel that Washington would continue to help it keep its military superiority amid concerns over planned US sales of advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

The secretary said he told Olmert that "the United States would help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge."

The weapons package reportedly includes tanks, warships and advanced air defence systems valued at between five and 10 billion dollars. Its exact content and value are still under consideration, US defence officials said. [complete article]

See also, Gates, Olmert see 'strategic changes' boosting peace prospects (Haaretz).
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Arabs form Israel 'contact group'
BBC News, April 19, 2007

Arab foreign ministers have authorised a contact group to talk directly with Israel about their peace initiative.

The group consists of Jordan and Egypt, although officials say it is possible other states which have no diplomatic ties with Israel could join in future.

The Arab peace initiative offers Israel normalised relations in exchange for a series of key peace moves.

Israel has said it will consider the proposal of a contact group, though it rejects parts of the Arab initiative. [complete article]
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Hariri trial a bellwether of Mideast clout
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, April 19, 2007

The United Nations' top legal envoy faces a tough challenge this week: forging a last-ditch agreement among feuding Lebanese to form an international criminal tribunal.

His success is being seen as pivotal to Lebanon's deepening political impasse.

As the crisis has steadily worsened here, the tribunal has morphed from an instrument of international justice to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri into the nexus of a regional struggle over Lebanon's future played out in the Mideast and the corridors of the UN headquarters in New York. The fate of Lebanon – and possibly neighboring Syria – could hang on the creation and powers of the tribunal.

"The tribunal ... is no longer merely aimed at putting those responsible for the assassination of Rafik Hariri on trial.... Today, the tribunal acts as a compass for the superpowers' relations with one another and with the region's nations and their collective and individual wars," wrote Raghida Dergham in the Arabic Al Hayat daily last week. [complete article]

See also, Welch insists Syrians or Iranians arming Hizbullah (Daily Star).
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Turks wary of possible Islamist power play
By Yigal Schleifer, Christian Science Monitor, April 19, 2007

"Will he or won't he?" That is the question that has gripped Turkey for the last several weeks.

In early May, Turkey's parliament will elect the country's new president – a ceremonial though powerful and highly symbolic position – and the leading candidate is the current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Although the prime minister holds more power, the presidency is in many ways a more prestigious position. Seen by many Turks as the guardian of the country's secular system, the president can veto laws, appoint key officials, and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Mr. Erdogan has not yet confirmed that he will seek the presidency, but his party, the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), has a solid majority in parliament that would guarantee his successful election.

The prospect of the religious-minded AKP controlling both parliament and the presidency, however, has put Turkey's secular establishment, especially the military, on edge and has had led to an outcry from a large segment of the public, which fears that the delicate balance between religion and state in Turkey could be threatened. [complete article]

See also, Turkey's secularist comeback (Al-Ahram Weekly).
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Hundreds killed on Baghdad's day of bombs and blood
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 19, 2007

Yesterday will go down as a day of infamy for Iraqis who are repeatedly told by the US that their security is improving. Almost 200 people were killed on one of the bloodiest days of the four-year-old war, when car bombs ripped through four neighbourhoods across Baghdad, exposing the failure of the two-month-old US security plan.

In the aftermath of the blasts, American and Iraqi soldiers who rushed to the scene of the explosions were pelted with stones by angry crowds shouting: "Where is the security plan? We are not protected by this plan."

Billowing clouds of oily black smoke rose into the sky over the Iraqi capital after four bombs tore through crowded markets and streets leaving the ground covered in charred bodies and severed limbs. "I saw dozens of dead bodies," said a witness in Sadriyah, a mixed Shia-Kurdish neighbourhood in west Baghdad where 140 people died and 150 were injured. " Some people were burned alive inside minibuses. Nobody could reach them after the explosion. There were pieces of flesh all over the place. Women were screaming and shouting for their loved ones who died." [complete article]
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Our enemy's enemy
By Marc Lynch, The American Prospect, April 18, 2007

Perhaps the most consistent and widely accepted argument against withdrawal from Iraq has been the risk that al-Qaeda would take advantage of the vacuum to establish a durable base for exporting global jihad. But al-Qaeda has already declared an Islamic State of Iraq -- they did so in October, in spite of the United States's presence. A closer look at the results of that declaration might help reframe the debate about the implications of an American withdrawal. Iraqi Sunni politics have been turned upside down over the last few weeks -- and al-Qaeda's declaration of an Islamic State of Iraq, rather than America's "surge" strategy, is the main reason. Indeed, events in recent weeks offer good reason to believe that al-Qaeda would fare more poorly in a post-American Iraq than surge supporters pretend. [complete article]
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World publics reject U.S. role as the world leader
World Public Opinion, April 18, 2007

A multinational poll finds that publics around the world reject the idea that the United States should play the role of preeminent world leader. Most publics say the United States plays the role of world policeman more than it should, fails to take their country's interests into account and cannot be trusted to act responsibly.

But the survey also finds that majorities in most countries want the United States to participate in international efforts to address world problems. Views are divided about whether the United States should reduce the number of military bases it has overseas. Moreover, many publics think their country's relations with the United States are improving.

Americans largely agree with the rest of the world: most do not think the United States should remain the world's preeminent leader and prefer that it play a more cooperative role. They also believe United States plays the role of world policeman more than it should. [complete article]
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World reaction to Virginia shootings mixes condolences with criticism of policies
By Molly Moore, Washington Post, April 18, 2007

Officials, newspaper columnists and citizens around the world Tuesday described the Virginia Tech massacre as the tragic reflection of an America that fosters violence at home and abroad, even as it attempts to dictate behavior to the rest of the world.

From European countries with strict gun-control laws to war-ravaged Iraq, where dozens of people are killed in shootings and bombings each day, foreigners and their news media used the university attack to condemn what they depicted as U.S. policies to arm friends, attack enemies and rely on violence rather than dialogue to settle disputes.

"I'm not saying that it could only happen in the U.S.A.; no one could prevent someone from shooting people in the Sorbonne," said Pierre Chiquet, a 77-year-old retired aerospace engineer, referring to a Paris university. "But violence is more imbued in American society than in ours. The most dramatic aspect is that they even transport their violence to the rest of the world." [complete article]
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Hezbollah's big challenge
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, April 19, 2007

"You are in heaven and those who killed you will go to hell," reads a poster in a middle-class, predominantly Sunni neighborhood in north Beirut.

Those depicted in heaven include Saddam Hussein, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri (killed in a car bombing in 2005), and Sheik Ahmed Yassin (the Hamas leader assassinated by the Israelis in 2004). There's not much to unite Saddam, Arafat, Hariri and Yassin - who all "went to heaven" by different methods - except they were Sunni.

Compare this to posters all over bombed-out south Beirut depicting smiling Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

That's one way to see a Sunni-Shi'ite divide played out in a single Middle Eastern capital. Another way is to confront the configuration of the city itself.

Flush with Saudi Arabian funds, Hariri, a billionaire Sunni, set out to rebuild Beirut from the ashes of the Lebanese civil war. Western Christians - and Saudi Wahhabis - may be impressed with the malls and the smart cafes. But the Shi'ite masses from south Beirut - or south Lebanon for that matter - won't be seen sipping a cappuccino at the al-Maarad, facing the excavated ruins of the Roman cardus maximus (city center); they won't be shopping for Prada in Ras Beirut; they won't even be allowed at the door of the US$300-a-night hotel Albergo in Achrafiye; and the kids won't be able to afford $10 drinks at the Strange Fruit nightclub. [complete article]
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U.S. draws up benchmarks for Israel-PA talks
By Avi Issacharoff and Aluf Benn, Haaretz, April 18, 2007

The U.S. government will be giving Israel and the Palestinians a list of benchmarks in the coming weeks on compliance with their obligations. For the Palestinians, these include areas of security and terror prevention, while Israel has been asked to do its part in keeping the Gaza Strip crossings in operation and easing restrictions on movement in the West Bank.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be visiting the region during the second half of May for another round of talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. A senior Western source said the list of benchmarks, which awaits Rice's signature and would be the basis for talks when she comes to the region, will probably be presented to the two sides before her visit. [complete article]

U.S. may ease sanctions, Palestinian minister says
Reuters, April 18, 2007

Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad said he was hopeful that the United States would ease banking sanctions that have paralyzed the Palestinian government for more than a year.

Fayyad made the comments in interviews with Palestinian newspapers published on Wednesday after meetings in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and other senior Bush administration officials. [complete article]

Abbas deal with Islamic Jihad seeks to end Qassam rocket attacks
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, April 18, 2007

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has reached an agreement in principle with senior Islamic Jihad officials, whereby the organization would stop firing Qassam rockets at Israel for three weeks.

Israel Defense Forces sources confirmed there has been a sharp drop in rocket fire as a result of the agreement. Other attacks, however, such as sniper fire along the Gaza Strip security fence, have continued on a small scale.

Abbas and other senior Fatah officials have conducted an intensive effort to bring the Islamic Jihad into an agreement on renewing the tahadiyeh (calm) with Israel along the Gaza border. This is an internal Palestinian agreement, and not an accord with Israel. [complete article]
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U.S. links Iran to arms in Afghanistan
By Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2007

U.S.-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan recently intercepted Iranian-made weapons that were being shipped to fighters for the Taliban, historically regional rivals of Tehran, the Pentagon's top general said Tuesday.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the munitions, which included mortars and C-4 explosives, were captured within the last month near the city of Kandahar, which serves as the military and administrative capital of the restive south. That region has been under renewed Taliban assault in recent months.

The Bush administration has repeatedly accused Iran of supplying insurgents in Iraq with sophisticated weaponry, including armor-penetrating explosive devices. Pace's remarks were the first by a senior U.S. official to indicate similar activities in Afghanistan. [complete article]
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In a major step, Saudi Arabia agrees to write off 80 percent of Iraqi debt
By Steven Mufson and Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 18, 2007

Saudi Arabia has agreed to forgive 80 percent of the more than $15 billion that Iraq owes the kingdom, Iraqi and Saudi officials said yesterday, a major step given Saudi reluctance to provide financial assistance to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

But Iraqi Finance Minister Bayan Jabr said in an interview that Russia was holding out on debt forgiveness until talks begin on concessions that Russian oil and gas companies had under Saddam Hussein. Russian Embassy officials in Washington declined to comment late yesterday.

The Bush administration has been working for months to persuade other governments to follow the U.S. lead and write off all of their shares of Iraq's debts, which Jabr said total $140 billion. Most of those loans date to Iraq's war with Iran from 1980 to 1988, when the United States, Saudi Arabia and other governments saw Iraq as a buffer against Iran. [complete article]
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Hounded by insurgents, abandoned by us
By Kirk W. Johnson, New York Times, April 18, 2007

The crisis over Iraq's refugees is the first major policy issue in which Iraqi civilians are front and center. We debate how the surge looks today or how oil will be distributed tomorrow on the banks of a swelling river of human misery: two million Iraqis who couldn't bear to live in Iraq anymore, and another two million displaced internally but too poor to flee.

This week, representatives from dozens of countries and international nongovernmental organizations have gathered in Geneva to discuss what might be done in the wake of the largest population shift in the Middle East since 1948. The world is asking what George W. Bush, who started the war in Iraq and presides over the country that historically accepts more refugees than any other, will do for these desperate people.

Many of them will most likely be denied refuge in the United States because, under the Patriot and Real ID Acts, they are tarred with having provided material support to terrorists -- in the form of ransoms paid to kidnappers to secure a family member's release. Last month, Congress tried to create a waiver for those who provided material support "under duress." Lamentably, it was killed by Senator Jon Kyl, who said he'd respond with legislation to "provide relief from terrorism-related immigration bars to ... groups that do not pose a threat to the United States." [complete article]
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Iraq 'is university of terrorism'
Al Jazeera, April 17, 2007

The leader of the group The Islamic State of Iraq has said that the country has become "the university of terrorism".

Omar al-Baghdadi said that fighters belonging to his group, which is associated with al-Qaeda, have used the war in Iraq, to achieve high levels of training, in an audio recording released on the internet on Tuesday.

"From the military point of view, one of the [enemy] devils was right in saying that if Afghanistan was a school of terror, then Iraq is a university of terrorism," al-Baghdadi said in the recording. [complete article]

See also, Abu Omar Baghdadi responds to his critics (Marc Lynch),The city where al-Qaeda reigns (Dahr Jamail) and Iraq insurgents 'building rockets' (AP).
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Muqtada and Maliki as united as ever
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, April 18, 2007

The relationship between Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared to have taken a major downturn on Monday when Muqtada withdrew his six ministers from the cabinet. Appearances, though, especially in Byzantine Iraqi politics, can be deceptive,

In pulling out his ministers, Muqtada stressed his demand for a timetable for a US troop withdrawal from Iraq. Last December he "froze" his participation in the Maliki cabinet, to protest a meeting between the Iraqi prime minister and President George W Bush in Jordan, only to return after Shi'ite ranks needed unification following the hanging of Saddam Hussein.

Monday's announcement was read by a seemingly confident Nasser al-Rubai of the Sadrist bloc. "The main reasons [for the Sadrist walkout] are the prime minister's lack of response to the demands of nearly 1 million people in Najaf asking for the withdrawal of US forces and the deterioration in security and services." On April 9, about a million Shi'ites, on Muqtada's call, marched in protest on the anniversary of the US invasion four years ago.

As long as Maliki fails to push hard for the Americans to leave, Muqtada said, there will not be any cooperation between the Sadrists and Maliki.

Significantly, though, Muqtada did not withdraw his 30 deputies from the 275-seat Parliament. Had he done that, it would automatically have brought down not only the Maliki cabinet but the entire Iran-backed United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) that heads Parliament and in which the Sadrists are a leading group. [complete article]

See also, Iraq's Shiite political fissures widen (CSM) and More Iraqis go north, fleeing violence (CSM).
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The U.S. is neither feared nor respected anymore
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, April 17, 2007

I'm not sure if it's mere serendipity or anything more challenging, but every time I have come to Jordan recently my trip has coincided with the visit of a senior American official. Three weeks ago I was in Amman at the same time as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and this week my fellow visitor to Jordan's capital was US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Visits from Washington seem less significant these days in many ways, due to a drop in global perceptions of the United States. Over a decade and a half since the Cold War ended, we are hearing less from American academics, polemicists, and entertainers offering theories to explain the new grand order of the world. Most of those theories have tended to see the world from the American perspective, which is a perfectly normal sort of temporary self-infatuation, given the power of the US globally.

We may be able, conversely, to identify new trends that reflect how the rest of the world looks at the US. I can think of three principal criteria by which we can gauge how the world perceives American values (positively) and foreign policy (negatively): public opinion, as measured by numerous credible opinion polls; the policies of foreign governments; and the manner in which senior American officials are treated by their hosts, the public and the media in countries they visit.

On all three counts, the US is slipping in the eyes of the world. But I suspect we're seeing something far more significant than just a normal upward curve of anti-American sentiment, in response to America's robust use of power around the world. Several related trends seem to be converging and are most visible in the Middle East. [complete article]
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Aid and comfort for torturers
By Stephen Soldz, Counterpunch, April 13, 2007

On January 24, 2003, National Guardsman Sean Baker, stationed as a military policeman at Guantanamo detention center, volunteered to be a mock prisoner, donning an orange suit and refusing to leave his cell as part of a training exercise. As planned, an Immediate Reaction Force team of MPs attempted to extract him from the cell. When he uttered the code word, "red," indicating that this was a drill and that he'd had enough, one of the MPs "forced my head down against the steel floor and was sort of just grinding it into the floor. The individual then, when I picked up my head and said, 'Red,' slammed my head down against the floor," says Baker. "I was so afraid, I groaned out, 'I'm a U.S. soldier.' And when I said that, he slammed my head again, one more time against the floor. And I groaned out one more time, I said, 'I'm a U.S. soldier.' And I heard them say, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa,' ". Even though, unlike if Baker had been a real prisoner, the "extraction" was called off part-way through, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and was left with permanent injuries, including frequent epileptic-style seizures.

When asked what would have happened if he had been a real detainee, Baker told CBS's 60 Minutes: "I think they would have busted him up. I've seen detainees come outta there with blood on 'em. If there wasn't someone to say, 'I'm a U.S. soldier,' if you were speaking Arabic or Pashto or Urdu or some other language in the camp, we may never know what would have happened to that individual." [complete article]
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Up to their old tricks
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, April 17, 2007

The message in last week's Israeli press was clear. Tel Aviv had just avoided a bloodbath and Hamas were back in the business of launching suicide attacks against Israel.

Anyone exposed to the Israeli media would have been left in no doubt that a tragedy had been averted and Hamas, after a three-year moratorium on suicide attacks against Israel, had reverted to type.

The problem is that the Shin Bet press release that led to blanket coverage raises far more questions than it answers - none of which were asked by the Israeli media, or passed onto the Israeli public.

According to a press release from the prime minister's office last week on behalf of Shin Bet, a Hamas terrorist drove a 100kg car bomb to Tel Aviv with the aim of blowing it up over the Passover holiday. The driver got past a large Israeli checkpoint and the drove through the towns of Kfar Sava and Herzliya before reaching Tel Aviv. For some reason, the "suicide-terrorist" had second thoughts and returned home to the West Bank town of Qalqiliya, where he parked the vehicle in a "backyard", according to Ha'aretz.

By this time, Shin Bet awoke to the threat and, with the help of the army, arrested 19 suspects in Qalqiliya. According to the press release: "During the aforesaid wave of arrests, the vehicle exploded in a 'work accident'."

The bomb would have had a devastating effect on Tel Aviv. According to Shin Bet, the vehicle was loaded with "powerful explosives" and "considerable shrapnel". It is fair to guess the effect on Qalqiliya, where it exploded on March 14 or 15 according to the prime minister's office which deals with the public affairs of Shin Bet, would have been equally damaging.

Qalqiliya is a small, densely-populated town of 33,000, which is almost completely surrounded by a 30-foot concrete wall. However, no one in Qalqiliya could recall any kind of explosion in the town in recent months. [complete article]
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Hezbollah says will only disarm if mandated by Lebanese referendum
Haaretz, April 17, 2007

An aide of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview published Tuesday that the pro-Iranian organization is prepared to forfeit its weapons if the majority of Lebanon's civilians vote for such a move through a referendum.

Nasrallah has urged that a referendum be held.

The aide, Hussein Halil, also said in an interview published in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat that Hezbollah possesses enough weapons to protect Lebanon from Israel, and that even if Syria's border is closed off, the organization will still have an ample supply of arms. [complete article]
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Does terrorism work?, April 11, 2007

In their study, "Challenging Goliath: Comparing the Relative Strategic Effectiveness of Violent and Nonviolent Asymmetric Warfare", Dr. Maria Stephan, Director of Educational Initiatives at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, and Dr. Erica Chenoweth seek to examine the successes and failures of different asymmetric means of warfare – in which a weaker non-state actor challenges the state. In doing so, Stephan explains, they aim to assess "the relative strategic effectiveness of different asymmetric warfare types (i.e. guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and non-violent conflict), and look at the extent to which these groups have achieved their stated objectives".

Using a custom-built dataset, their study considers a wide-range of questions including whether the relative success of violent and non-violent groups differs depending on the adversarial regime (i.e. democratic or non-democratic), wealth and strength of the host state; whether the duration of a conflict affects the chance of success; and whether external assistance is pivotal to the success of non-violent resistance. [complete article]
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A war on the 'war on terror'
By AC Grayling, The Guardian, April 16, 2007

As an example of speaking truth to power, there is little to beat Hilary Benn's remarks in New York about the phrase "war on terror". Coined by President George Bush in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities, the phrase began as a rhetorical avowal of determination and became a policy, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say: a substitute for one. Benn is entirely right to challenge the phrase as vastly more harmful than helpful in the face of the world's present difficulties.

The first thing Benn is right about is the effect that the phrase has in sorting together all those non-state, self-constituted groups who choose violence as their means. A twofold problem results: one, correctly nominated by Benn, is that it offers the disparate groups a common identity, and with it a spurious justification to which they can therefore help themselves. Another, correctly implied by Benn, is that it leads to a uniform approach being taken to dealing with those groups, when in fact each one requires its own tailored approach, in some if not many cases the most effective of which would certainly not be helicopter gunships and infantry battalions, or these alone. "It is only the dullness of the eye," said Walter Pater, "which makes any two things seem alike." [complete article]

See also, Where does development fit in foreign policy?" [PDF] (Hilary Benn).

Comment -- Hilary Benn (son of one of the finest politicians Britain has ever had) has picked up the baton that Zbigniew Brzezinski eloquently held up less than a month ago. Is it conceivable, by any vast stretch in our wildest imagination, that anyone bold enough to run for president might also have the daring and intellectual strength to pick up this same theme?

"Dullness of the eye" -- not terrorism -- this is the real scourge of humanity. And nowhere does it seem to exist in greater concentration than in the United States. Over the last six years we have masterfully demonstrated the devasting effect of power wielded without intelligence.

The greatest, the most powerful, the wealthiest -- why is it that a nation that craves the honor of being crowned with all other superlatives has such little interest in being the smartest?!

If "war on terror" is a conceptual misconstruction that has achieved nothing more than mangled foreign policy and skewed our perception of the world, what might a verbal and intellectual remedy look like?

There is a global affliction and it produces a host of symptoms among which terrorism is merely one. We live in a world that is profoundly out of balance. The global struggle that we have yet to engage but desparately need to must focus on nothing less than the pursuit of a new and sustainable political, economic, environmental, social, and cultural order.

In a world seeking balance no nation, people, race, religion, or region, can afford to place itself above all others.
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Torture, secrecy, and the Bush administration
By Scott Horton, Harper's, April 14, 2007

I want to give a bit of pre-constitutional history, and share with you the story of John Lilburne, an Englishman born in the early 1600s because his story -- the story of an agitator who directly challenged the English legal system -- has a great deal to tell us about the issues we're facing today. Lilburne's story explains why these matters—torture and secrecy -- were not issues to the Founding Fathers, and it helps us understand the true nature of a government which, like the current administration, thrives in that matrix of torture and secrecy.

So much of what has happened over the last six years seems a repetition of events drawn from English history, from the turbulent years from the Civil War to the Glorious Revolution -- this could be said of the struggle over habeas corpus, which was right at the center of the conflict between Parliament and king, as seen in the Five Knights case of 1627 or the Shipmaster's tax case of 1637. But the notion of secret legal proceedings, closed courts and the use of secret evidence also characterize that period of history. Before the English Civil War, court proceedings were frequently closed, and one of the principles of fair process introduced in the Commonwealth -- it seems to have been an initiative of the solicitor general, John Cooke -- was the notion that no court should conduct its hearings behind closed doors, and neither should any evidence be taken which could not be shared with the public and presented to the defendant and the jury. [complete article]
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Olive branch from Hamas
By Robert D. Novak, Washington Post, April 16, 2007

On April 7, ending a seven-day visit to Israel, I finally got an interview I had sought for a year. I sat down in a Palestinian Authority office in Ramallah with a leader of Hamas, the extremist organization that won last year's elections. This leader pushed a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution and deplored suicide bombers. But officials in Washington seem not to want to hear Hamas calling for peace.

No fringe character, this was Naser al-Shaer: education minister and deputy prime minister in the new coalition government. Shaer signaled that the regime recognizes Israel's right to exist and forgoes violence -- conditions essential for talks about a viable Palestinian state adjoining Israel -- even if Hamas does not. "We hope that it is going to be a matter of time," Shaer told me. "But there is a big chance now."

When I returned to Washington last week, I sought the reaction of Bush administration officials (who refuse to have any contact with Hamas). I asked to talk to Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who is most influential in policy on Israel. Abrams was once a fellow Cold Warrior and friend whom I have defended, but an aide let me know on Thursday that Abrams would not talk to me about Hamas. [complete article]

Comment -- And why does Elliot Abrams refuse to even talk about Hamas? He has no interest in listening to political overtures from an organization that he would prefer to see annihilated. The only acceptable "shift," as far as he is concerned, is dissolution.
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Ministers loyal to Iraqi cleric quit government posts
By Edward Wong, New York Times, April 16, 2007

The militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr withdrew six ministers loyal to him from the Iraqi cabinet on Monday, in the first major shake-up of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's government since it was installed a year ago.

Legislators working for Mr. Sadr said that Mr. Sadr was withdrawing his ministers from the 38-member cabinet because the Iraqi government had refused to set a timetable for pulling American troops out of the country.

The move is the first time Mr. Sadr has followed through with a threat to cut some of his ties with the government and with Mr. Maliki, a conservative Shiite whose grip on authority largely rests on Mr. Sadr's political support.

Mr. Sadr said he was motivated by Iraqi nationalism, asserting that his action was intended to give the government a chance to appoint new ministers who would not be beholden to any political party or have sectarian agendas. [complete article]

In Iraq, a parliament in disarray
By Sam Dagher, Christian Science Monitor, April 16, 2007

The stunning breach in security at Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone last week killed one Sunni lawmaker and, in the aftermath, revealed an increasingly disoriented and dysfunctional Iraqi government.

Lawmakers met the day after a suicide bomber blew himself up in the cafeteria at the parliament building. Their meeting was intended to be an opportunity for solidarity and an act of defiance in the face of the threat to their institution and their personal safety.

But, rather, Friday's session, and the political finger-pointing over the weekend, painted a picture of disarray.

Many analysts say that Thursday's attack will only serve to further isolate the 275-member parliament from the people who elected it in December 2005. Already, the government is seen by many here to be too mired in sectarian bickering and personal animosities to operate as a functioning government. [complete article]
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A World Wide Web of terrorist plotting
By Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2007

They never met face to face, but the two young zealots became brother warriors in the new land of jihad: the Internet.

Investigators say their bond made them central figures in a terrorism network that spanned eight countries, involved more than 30 suspects and hatched plots in Washington, Toronto, London and Sarajevo.

Maximus was the online moniker of Mirsad Bektasevic, a lanky Bosnian refugee with a dark stare and a hunger for action. At 18, he returned from Sweden to this war-scarred city, where he assembled an arsenal for a suicide attack and filmed a "martyrdom" video. [complete article]
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BBC correspondent may have been 'sold' to Islamic militants
By David Brown and Sonia Verma, The Times, April 17, 2007

Fears for the safety of the kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston increased yesterday amid suggestions that he had been "sold" to Islamic militants shortly before unconfirmed claims were made that he had been killed.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it was "urgently investigating" a claim by an Islamist group that it had killed the BBC’s Gaza-based correspondent and that it would release a video of his death.

Although the Kataeb al-Jihad al-Tawheed (the Brigades of Holy War and Unity) group is not known in Gaza, the name has been used elsewhere in the Middle East by organisations linked to al-Qaeda. [complete article]
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Why I declined to serve
By John J. Sheehan, Washington Post, April 16, 2007

Service to the nation is both a responsibility and an honor for every citizen presented with the opportunity. This is especially true in times of war and crisis. Today, because of the war in Iraq, this nation is in a crisis of confidence and is confused about its foreign policy direction, especially in the Middle East.

When asked whether I would like to be considered for the position of White House implementation manager for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I knew that it would be a difficult assignment, but also an honor, and that this was a serious task that needed to be done. I served as the military assistant to the deputy secretary of defense in the mid-1980s and more recently as commander in chief of the Atlantic Command during the Cuban and Haitian migrant operation and the reconstruction of Haiti. Based on my experience, I knew that a White House position of this nature would require interagency acceptance. Cabinet-level agencies, organizations and their leadership must buy in to the position's roles and responsibilities. Most important, Cabinet-level personalities must develop and accept a clear definition of the strategic approach to policy.

What I found in discussions with current and former members of this administration is that there is no agreed-upon strategic view of the Iraq problem or the region. In my view, there are essentially three strategies in play simultaneously. [complete article]
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Which nation does the Iraqi National Intelligence Service serve?
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 15, 2007

Suspicious of Iraq's CIA-funded national intelligence agency, members of the Iraqi government have erected a "shadow" secret service that critics say is driven by a Shiite Muslim agenda and has left the country with dueling spy agencies.

Thus begins a Los Angeles Times report as it weaves a tortured narrative which surely pleases no one other than the US officials who briefed the newspaper.

The so-called "Iraqi National Intelligence Service" was formed while Iraq was still being governed by Viceroy Bremer and is under the command of Gen. Mohammed Shahwani, described by the Times as having been "a crucial asset to the Americans since the fall of Hussein's regime." In this context, the term "asset" can hardly be being used casually!

Shahwani (who owns a home in the United States) was so mistrusted by the Iraqi government that through much of 2005 and 2006 he was banned from cabinet meetings. In 2005, the United States resisted the efforts of then-Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari to take charge of the INIS.

In the articles of the charter [PDF] under which the INIS was established, it states that "The service shall provide intelligence support and coordination to Iraqi military services in furtherance of national security." Curiously, on the INIS's own web site (which as far as I can tell is authentic), it states that, "The INIS will ensure intelligence support for the armed forces in support of regional security."

What seems more than likely is that the INIS is loyal, first and foremost, to its paymasters and that the armed forces it exists to support are American, rather than Iraqi. In spite of this, the Times article characterizes the competing Iraqi intelligence service as a suspect, "shadow," and sectarian entity.

Halfway through the article it becomes clear what is motivating this particular US official to talk to the Times: "The official also implied that Iran had sought to undermine the INIS, in part because of its close ties to the United States and the CIA."

Burrow all the way to the end of the article and we finally get the reason the INIS is getting what we are supposed to believe is a bum rap.

Some of Shahwani's goons were arrested in connection with the kidnapping of Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at Iran's embassy in Baghdad, who since his release has said he was tortured by the CIA. Shahwani assures the Times that his men were guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The question that the Los Angeles Times makes no effort to address is how Iraq, a nominally sovereign state, can have an intelligence service under direct US control.

Instead, the narrative that's been loosely spun together here (and maybe the Times' reporter had his thumbs twisted so that he'd spin it the right way) is that the INIS is combating Iraq's enemies, it is a force against sectarianism, and if you hear anything bad about the organization, this can just be dismissed -- it's misinformation coming from Iran.

Intelligence services -- even those that are clearly only answerable to one government, their own -- have a tendency of seeing themselves as being above the law. The exigencies of "national security" foster a self-aggrandizing sensibility. Empowered by secrecy, those with the duty of defending a nation against its most determined and ruthless enemies gladly believe that they should neither shackle themselves unduly, nor suffer intrusive scrutiny. How much more lawless then will an intelligence agency become when it is more closely aligned to the CIA than it is to its own government?
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U.S. holds 18,000 detainees in Iraq
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, April 15, 2007

In the past month, as a new security crackdown in Baghdad began, U.S. forces arrested another 1,000 Iraqis, bringing to 18,000 the number of detainees jailed in two U.S.-run facilities in that country.

The average stay in these detention centers is about a year, but about 8,000 of the detainees have been jailed longer, including 1,300 who have been in custody for two years, said a statement provided by Capt. Phillip J. Valenti, spokesman for Task Force 134, the U.S. Military Police group handling detainee operations.

"The intent is to detain individuals determined to be true threats to coalition forces, Iraqi Security Forces and stability in Iraq," Valenti said. "Unlike situations in the past, these detainees are not conventional prisoners of war."
Noah Feldman, a New York University law professor who helped draft the Iraqi constitution, asked, "Pursuant to what law are we holding people who are not turned over to Iraqi courts?" Because they are not considered prisoners of war, he said, the United States must consider them in the "enemy combatant" category used to justify holding detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Feldman also expressed concern about whether family members are informed about the detainees' identities and where they are held. If there is no notification, "disappearing people is a bad, bad practice," Feldman said. [complete article]
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Four hired guns in an armored truck, bullets flying, and a pickup and a taxi brought to a halt. Who did the shooting and why?
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, April 15, 2007

On the afternoon of July 8, 2006, four private security guards rolled out of Baghdad's Green Zone in an armored SUV. The team leader, Jacob C. Washbourne, rode in the front passenger seat. He seemed in a good mood. His vacation started the next day.

"I want to kill somebody today," Washbourne said, according to the three other men in the vehicle, who later recalled it as an offhand remark. Before the day was over, however, the guards had been involved in three shooting incidents. In one, Washbourne allegedly fired into the windshield of a taxi for amusement, according to interviews and statements from the three other guards.

Washbourne, a 29-year-old former Marine, denied the allegations. "They're all unfounded, unbased, and they simply did not happen," he said during an interview near his home in Broken Arrow, Okla.

The full story of what happened on Baghdad's airport road that day may never be known. But a Washington Post investigation of the incidents provides a rare look inside the world of private security contractors, the hired guns who fight a parallel and largely hidden war in Iraq. The contractors face the same dangers as the military, but many come to the war for big money, and they operate outside most of the laws that govern American forces.

The U.S. military has brought charges against dozens of soldiers and Marines in Iraq, including 64 servicemen linked to murders. Not a single case has been brought against a security contractor, and confusion is widespread among contractors and the military over what laws, if any, apply to their conduct. The Pentagon estimates that at least 20,000 security contractors work in Iraq, the size of an additional division. [complete article]
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Iran trains 'thousands' of Iraqi insurgents
By Phil Sands, The Independent, April 15, 2007

Thousands of Iraqi Shias are being trained in advanced guerrilla warfare tactics at a secret camp near the Iranian capital, according to militants who say they have spent time there.

Through an Iraqi intermediary who also went to Iran, The Independent on Sunday spoke to two seasoned guerrilla fighters. They said large numbers of Mahdi Army volunteers loyal to the maverick Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had gone to the base in Jalil Azad, near Tehran, for instruction.

Abu Amer, a 39-year-old Mahdi Army fighter who asked that his full name not be used, said he had been trained by instructors he believed were from Iran's Revolutionary Guard. "Shia fighters are being trained in modern fighting methods, such as use of powerful explosives and bringing down helicopters," he told the IoS. [complete article]
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Sadr's rising star to eclipse Bush's surge?
By Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch, April 15, 2007

Public opinion polls are valuable chips to play for those engaged in a debate of national or international consequence. In the end, however, they are abstract numbers. It is popular demonstrations which give them substance, color, and -- above all -- wide media exposure, and make them truly meaningful. This is particularly true when such marches are peaceful and disciplined in a war-ravaged country like Iraq.

This indeed was the case with the demonstration on April 9 in Najaf. Over a million Iraqis, holding aloft thousands of national flags, marched, chanting, "Yes, yes, Iraq/No, no, America" and "No, no, American/Leave, leave occupier."

The demonstrators arrived from all over the country in response to a call by Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric, to demand an end to foreign occupation on the fourth anniversary of the end of Baathist rule in Baghdad.

Both the size of the demonstration and its composition were unprecedented. "There are people here from all different parties and sects," Hadhim al-Araji, Sadr's representative in Baghdad's Kadhimiya district, told reporters. "We are all carrying the national flag, a symbol of unity. And we are all united in calling for the withdrawal of the Americans." [complete article]

See also, Sadr's party says split from Iraq govt inevitable (Reuters).
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Iraq: Is anyone planning for U.S. pull out?
By Christopher Dickey and John Barry, Newsweek, April 23, 2007

...there's a growing sense among both America's allies and its enemies that U.S. combat troops, at least, will be out of Iraq by the end of next year. The House bill calls for withdrawal by August 2008; the Senate sets a nonbinding goal of March 31. But the bottom line is the same: goodbye to Baghdad. "The implosion of domestic support for the war will compel the disengagement of U.S. forces," writes Steven N. Simon of the Council on Foreign Relations. "It is now just a matter of time." West Point's Gen. Barry McCaffrey, after an intense week of briefings in Iraq last month, warns that the American military cannot sustain this level of commitment for much more than another year. The U.S. Army "is going to start to unravel" because it is stretched so thin by the war, he says.

These voices argue that while the White House might hope for the best, it ought to be planning for the worst. Political realities in Washington make that extremely difficult. "There is a real problem with talking about 'the day after' [a U.S. withdrawal]," says Simon, who served in the Clinton White House. "The minute you do, it's going to leak and you, the administration, will be characterized as having given up." Brookings analyst Kenneth M. Pollack recently coauthored a 130-page report on the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal. The paper, titled "Things Fall Apart," received discreet support from the national-security bureaucracy. "But I'm a bit concerned," he says. "Before the invasion I was going around saying how important postwar reconstruction was, and I was dutifully reassured: 'We got it covered; we have all these planning cells.' Only to learn after the fact that these efforts were totally half-assed. I'm hearing very similar things now." [complete article]

McCain sees 'no Plan B' for Iraq war
By Michael R. Gordon and Adam Nagourney, New York Times, April 15, 2007

Senator John McCain said that the buildup of American forces in Iraq represented the only viable option to avoid failure in Iraq and that he had yet to identify an effective fallback if the current strategy failed.

"I have no Plan B," Mr. McCain said in an interview. "If I saw that doomsday scenario evolving, then I would try to come up with one. But I cannot give you a good alternative because if I had a good alternative, maybe we could consider it now."

In a discussion of how he would handle Iraq if elected president, Mr. McCain said that the success of the Bush administration's strategy, which seeks to protect Baghdad residents so Iraqi political leaders have an opportunity to pursue a program of political reconciliation, was essentially a precondition for a more limited American role that could follow.

"I am not guaranteeing that this succeeds," said Mr. McCain, who has long argued that additional troops are needed. "I am just saying that I think it can. I believe it has a good shot." [complete article]

Comment -- The struggle here seems as much embedded in the American psyche as it is in the failures of this particular administration. Planning for a defeat, for withdrawal, goes so completely against the American grain, against the spirit of renewal, reinvention and success. As a culture, this is one that has yet to reach a level of maturity where it can see its own shadow without a crushing sense of insecurity. Where "failure is impossible," real failure will bring recrimination without self-analysis.

America is the great superpower and we are living in a world that is very much of our own making, yet these are two ideas so difficult to fuse together inside the American mind.
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The final act of submission
By Scott Ritter, Truthdig, April 13, 2007

In this time of constitutional crisis, the American people need to wake up and demand that the basic tenets of the Constitution be adhered to. Congress is solely empowered by the Constitution to declare war. Demanding that the president of the United States adhere to this prerequisite is a logical and patriotic stance. Allowing any non-American interest, even one possessing such highly charged political and emotional sensitivities as Israel, to dictate otherwise represents nothing more than a capitulation of sovereignty. We the people need to rally around this defense of sovereignty. We must demand not only that Congress reassert its constitutional responsibilities and authority by demanding the president obey the letter of the law when it comes to war, whether against Iran or any other nation, but also to place in check the anti-American activities of one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, D.C., the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee.

For decades AIPAC has operated in the shadows of American foreign policy decision-making, exerting its influence on elected officials away from the public scrutiny of the very constituents who elected those officials to begin with. It is impossible to hold someone accountable for actions that are kept secret, and as such AIPAC’s ability to secretly influence American foreign and national security policies represents a flagrant insult and threat to the very essence of American democracy. I am not advocating the dissolution of AIPAC. However, I am demanding that AIPAC be treated as any other representative of a foreign nation is treated. It should have to register as an agent of a foreign power so that the totality of its interactions with American officials can become a part of the public record. We require this of all other nations, including our good friends the British. [complete article]
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Eye on Iran, rivals pursuing nuclear power
By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, New York Times, April 15, 2007

Two years ago, the leaders of Saudi Arabia told international atomic regulators that they could foresee no need for the kingdom to develop nuclear power. Today, they are scrambling to hire atomic contractors, buy nuclear hardware and build support for a regional system of reactors.

So, too, Turkey is preparing for its first atomic plant. And Egypt has announced plans to build one on its Mediterranean coast. In all, roughly a dozen states in the region have recently turned to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna for help in starting their own nuclear programs. While interest in nuclear energy is rising globally, it is unusually strong in the Middle East.

"The rules have changed," King Abdullah II of Jordan recently told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "Everybody's going for nuclear programs."

The Middle East states say they only want atomic power. Some probably do. But United States government and private analysts say they believe that the rush of activity is also intended to counter the threat of a nuclear Iran. [complete article]
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Diplomatic exit
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 15, 2007

Javad Zarif, the highest-ranking Iranian diplomat in the United States, made a rare trip to Washington last month. The timing could not have been worse.

Five days earlier, Iran's Revolutionary Guard had seized 15 British sailors in the Persian Gulf. The U.N. Security Council had just imposed new sanctions on Iran for failing to ensure that its nuclear energy program could not be subverted to make the world's deadliest weapon.

Yet Zarif, whose five-year stint as Tehran's ambassador to the United Nations is about to end, was widely welcomed here, getting access that would make envoys from America's closest allies green with undiplomatic envy.

He was even invited to Capitol Hill to chat with with presidential hopefuls from both sides of the aisle.

"Zarif is a tough advocate but he's also pragmatic, not dogmatic. He can play an important role in helping to resolve our significant differences with Iran peacefully," Democrat Joe Biden said afterward. Noting his previous talks with the Iranian envoy, Republican Chuck Hagel called for "direct engagement" between Washington and Tehran. "Isolating nations does not fix problems," Hagel said. [complete article]
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Iran: the hidden power
By Shora Esmailian and Andreas Malm, Open Democracy, April 10, 2007

The war in Iran has already begun. Its first victims are not laid to rest in the mournful martyrs' cemeteries that dot the country, but are locked up behind the concrete walls, barbed-wire and steel gates of Tehran's Evin prison: the latest contingent of striking workers, imprisoned in their hundreds for serving the foreign enemy.

It is difficult not to feel a sense of deja vu. The entire history of the Islamic Republic of Iran since its foundation in 1979 has been characterised by the attempt of its rulers to stigmatise dissent and opposition with the taint of treasonable collusion with Iran's external adversaries. The early post-revolution stand-offs with Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the contested Shatt al-Arab waterway, the long hostage crisis with the United States (1979-80), the epic war with Iraq (1980-88), the repression of dissident students, intellectuals and human-rights campaigners, the nowruz (new year) row with Britain over the detention of fifteen service personnel - all these crises and trends have been accompanied with accusations from the theocratic state that its internal critics were in league with foreigners. Throughout, the most enduring and dangerous of these oppositional forces - albeit very often the most ignored by those outside Iran ostensibly committed to the country's democratic advance - has been the organised working class of Iran. [complete article]
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Olmert, Abbas discuss nature of Palestinian state in Jerusalem meeting
By Aluf Benn, Avi Issacharoff and Yoav Stern, Haaretz, April 15, 2007

A meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem on Sunday included discussions on the nature of a future Palestinian state, an official in the Prime Minister's Office said.

Olmert and Abbas avoided, however, the thorny final status issues of borders, Jerusalem, and refugees.

"They did not speak about final status issues," David Baker told Haaretz. "They did speak about a political horizon, which included economic cooperation with a future Palestinian state and expanding the dialog about economic ventures with the Palestinians and how a future Palestinian economy would be comprised in such a state." [complete article]
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Olmert's big dilemma
By Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram Weekly, April 12, 2007

After months of delays and equivocation, the Israeli government has finally agreed to receive a list of the names of Palestinian political and resistance prisoners Hamas is demanding released from Israeli jails in return for freeing an Israeli occupation soldier captured by resistance fighters near Gaza last year.

The list includes some 1,300-1,400 prisoners and detainees, including prominent political and resistance leaders affiliated with Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), among other Palestinian groups.

According to information posted on an Islamic website, though as yet unofficial, imprisoned Hamas leader Hassan Youssef, Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and PFLP Secretary-General Ahmed Saadat will top the list of would-be freed prisoners.

The list also contains veteran Hamas leaders Abdullah Barghouti, Yehia Senwar, Hassan Salameh, Abdul-Khaleq Al-Natshe, Nael Barghouti as well Bassam Al-Saadi, a top Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, and Fouad Al-Shubaki, a top Fatah security official. [complete article]
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Suicide bombers strike N. Africa again
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, April 15, 2007

Suicide bombers struck in North Africa on Saturday for the third time in a week, targeting the U.S. Consulate and an American cultural center in the Moroccan port city of Casablanca. U.S. officials warned that more terrorist attacks in the region could be imminent, describing specific plots in Algeria.

In Casablanca, two brothers wearing belts packed with explosives blew themselves up within moments of each other outside the consulate and the American Language Center, a privately run school and cultural center on the same street, several blocks away. Police said the brothers apparently were unable to breach security barriers at the sites. The only casualty was a bystander who was reported slightly injured.

Security concerns across North Africa have escalated since Tuesday, when three suicide bombers from the same cell in Casablanca blew themselves up after a confrontation with police. The following day, in neighboring Algeria, 33 people were killed when car bombers attacked the Government Palace in the capital, Algiers, and a suburban police station. [complete article]
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Islamic Courts offer Somali talks
Al Jazeera, April 14, 2007

A senior leader of the Union of Islamic Courts has offered to negotiate with Somalia's interim government if its Ethiopian allies leave the country.

In a phone call to Al Jazeera, Sheikh Dahir Aweys, chief of the Supreme Islamic Council of the Somali Islamic Courts, also threatened on Saturday to launch attacks against African peacekeepers.

Ugandan troops are in Somalia as the vanguard of an African peacekeeping force to try to stabilise the country and allow Ethiopian troops, who helped oust the Islamic courts, and who are disliked by many Somalis, to leave. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Divide and rule - America's plan for Baghdad
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, April 12, 2007

Iraq: Why the media failed
By Gary Kamiya, Salon, April 10, 2007

Will American bombs kill my Iranian dream?
By Behzad Yaghmaian, TomDispatch, April 12, 2007

The U.S., but not democracy, is losing among Arabs
By Shlomo Ben-Ami, Daily Star, April 11, 2007

Insurgents against al-Qaida
By Marc Lynch, The Guardian, April 10, 2007

Two ways out of Iraq
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 9, 2007

Worse than apartheid?
By Robert D. Novak, Washington Post, April 9, 2007

'Your Iraq plan?' is a pointless question
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2007

Why is Hezbollah on the terrorism list?
By Franklin Lamb, Counterpunch, April 6, 2007

Israel doesn't want peace
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, April 8, 2007
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